I feel like I’ve been here before, but I don’t think I’ve ever been here with Prong. In retrospect, that’s surprising.
Oh, sorry – got a bit ahead of myself.
I’ve talked about Prong quite a bit here over the years, and followed them pretty closely since the mid-90s. You’d think I’d have a firm grip on their direction, progression, etc. Yet, through the first several spins of No Absolutes I found myself wondering why I couldn’t form an opinion. I didn’t dislike it; in fact, I was enjoying it quite a bit. Still, when asked what I thought, I couldn’t give a straight answer.
I finally figured it out. I was SO obsessed with those mid-90s offerings (Cleansing and Rude Awakening) and the industrial leanings which made them so essential, that I kept thinking, “This just doesn’t SOUND like Prong.” But then… Neither did Ruining Lives (nor Songs From the Black Hole, which goes without saying), and I had that on my year-end list. So why was this just becoming an issue for me now?
I had to figure it out, so I queued up No Absolutes and its immediate predecessors (Carved Into Stone and the aforementioned Ruining Lives) in hopes of finding some answers.
Listening in sequence, everything began to fall into place. Those industrial sounds the band continued to use after their early-aughts reformation were already being phased out on Carved Into Stone. You heard them more in the songwriting and structure than the actual sound, as they focused more on the basic guitar/bass/drum paradigm. It had enough in common with the classics that you didn’t really notice the shift…at the time. The metamorphosis was completed on Ruining Lives, a straight-ahead metal album. I must have been in a daze or something, but should have known something was up when my originally intended proper review eventually became a Fast Rites contribution.
Now, listening to those two albums back-to-back, the latter is the natural evolution of the former. With the last of the industrial elements scraped away, the core metal sound of Prong was shining through. No Absolutes, then, is the next step in that direction. It may even be a better album than Ruining Lives. With their revamped sound continuing to evolve, and having reconnected with their personal musical roots on Songs from the Black Hole, Prong sounds like a band rejuvenated, reinvigorated, and once again hell bent on musical destruction.
Opening track “Ultimate Authority” serves as a bridge to the album’s predecessor, possessing much of the same vibe but an increased sense of urgency and fire. That sense is quick to manifest itself in the form of “Sense of Ease”, with its blistering riffs and hypnotic closing movement that tones up and down teasing a crescendo that never occurs, yet isn’t any less satisfying. “Without Words” takes the best of those two tracks and adds a defiant “UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US!” vocal hook.
Just when you think you have them figured out, Prong pull a new trick out of their bag, the ballad-esque “Do Nothing”, which sees Tommy Victor making his most liberal use of clean vocals to date. The mellow-yet-heavy contrast and wall of sound backing the chorus make for an experience that is entirely un-Prong like…which also makes it incredibly Prong-like. Such is the nature of a band not afraid to take chances (which they do again by including piano on the similarly styled “With Dignity”). However, if it turned you off and starting taking you out of the experience, they’ll grab you right back with the heavy downtune of “Belief System”, which sounds like what might happen if Prong ever collaborated with Fear Factory (or at least Dino Cazares).
I feel like I need to call out “In Spite of Hindrances”. Solid track, no doubt…however, that title…it’s a little fancy. Not that the band needs to dumb it down for the meathead crowd, but those aren’t exactly rhythmic syllables. The more oft used phrase “REACH OUT!” in the chorus might have worked better, and is easier to shout at the band in an attempt to influence their setlist. Then again, this is the band that managed to get a hit out of a song entitled “Unconditional”, so maybe I’m the asshole here. I’m certainly a lazy one, as I won’t be making the near two hour trek north to see them in June and try to say it in a single breath.
So after all that, I can say that No Absolutes is a hard-hitting continuation of their most recent post-hiatus resurgence (would that be “Prong Mach IV” at this point?). The band continues to get stronger and tighter as a three-piece and there is no shortage of lyrical fodder in Tommy Victor’s arsenal (sometime soon I’ll expect a diatribe at The Dodgers’ continued postseason futility). For the skeptics, this might be a good time to get back on board. Even if they’re not revolutionizing genres and breaking barriers, they still have tons to offer musically…<“Prove You Wrong” pun deleted by author>.